Ef­fects of drought likely to be felt into next year The heat­wave prompted the NFU and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to meet at a drought sum­mit

Country Smallholding - - News -

ALTHOUGH BRI­TAIN’S record-break­ing heat­wave has now been bro­ken by rain storms, the im­pact of the pro­longed tin­der­box dry sum­mer fol­low­ing a longer than usual win­ter is likely to con­tinue through­out this year and into next, writes Kim Stod­dart.

With slow grow­ing grass and crops, ris­ing straw (and ce­real) prices and many win­ter for­age stores al­ready be­ing dipped into, in­comes across the board are set to be af­fected.

In re­cent weeks, many or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als have been look­ing at what can be done to ad­dress the knock-on chal­lenges and with con­cerns around how this will im­pact on landown­ers, as well as the UK’s food sup­ply over­all, the Na­tional Farm­ers Union (NFU) met with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at an emer­gency ‘drought sum­mit’.

Dur­ing this, Michael Gove, the Sec­re­tary of State for En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs, heard from in­dus­try groups about the dif­fi­cul­ties be­ing faced around ir­ri­ga­tion, wa­ter short­ages, crop losses and the lack of for­age for live­stock. Con­cerns around the men­tal and phys­i­cal well-be­ing of farm­ers be­cause of this ex­tra pres­sure were also dis­cussed, with farm­ing char­i­ties such as the Royal Agri­cul­tural Benev­o­lent In­sti­tu­tion (RABI) ex­plain­ing how the num­ber of calls they have re­ceived for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies has spiked dra­mat­i­cally this sum­mer (145 re­quests for help in June and July this year, com­pared to 90 for the same pe­riod in 2017).

How this will help small­hold­ers on the ground re­mains to be seen, but in is­sues of re­lated fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty, RABI told Coun­try Small­hold­ing that as a char­ity it takes each re­quest for help on a case-by-case ba­sis.

On the sub­ject of the chal­lenges in­volved in find­ing wa­ter to meet such de­mands, the CLA called on the gov­ern­ment to fo­cus on long-term wa­ter man­age­ment in light of po­ten­tial cli­mate change.

For small­hold­ers con­cerned about their pri­vate wa­ter sup­ply, the CLA’s chief land use pol­icy ad­viser Su­san Twin­ing ex­plained that up to 4,400 gal­lons of wa­ter can be ex­tracted per day with­out the need for a spe­cific ab­strac­tion li­cence. “If you think that you might ex­ceed this amount, you should con­tact the En­vi­ron­ment Agency (EA) for a tem­po­rary li­cence. Use a wa­ter me­ter if pos­si­ble, so that if EA in­spec­tors turn up you can demon­strate that you are oper­at­ing within the lim­its,” she said. “If your wa­ter is run­ning low, this can also af­fect the qual­ity, so you should make your own pro­vi­sions for al­ter­na­tive sup­plies. Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have re­spon­si­bil­ity for pri­vate wa­ter sup­plies for do­mes­tic use, but not busi­ness use, so sup­plies for live­stock, for ex­am­ple, are not cov­ered.”

Mrs Twin­ing also rec­om­mend that small­hold­ers re­view their wa­ter use now and make con­tin­gency plans to se­cure con­sis­tent sup­ply for the fu­ture (see page 19).

The drought pe­riod has iden­ti­fied crops, prac­tices and pro­duce with a greater re­silience to ex­tremes of weather.

“Go­ing for­ward, we are see­ing that more di­verse grass swards are far­ing bet­ter than sin­gle species leys, due to deeper roots, and we know that higher lev­els of soil or­ganic mat­ter does con­trib­ute to both drought and flood re­silience as it re­tains more wa­ter,” said Liz Bowles, head of farm­ing at the Soil As­so­ci­a­tion. “Grass­land un­der trees and near hedgerows is also sur­viv­ing bet­ter, which is why trees on farms are so im­por­tant and could help us to pre­pare for more sum­mers like this in the fu­ture. More pos­i­tively, some busi­nesses, such as pro­duc­ers of grapes and some soft fruits, in­clud­ing black­cur­rants, are likely to have ben­e­fit­ted from the hot and dry con­di­tions.”

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